WASHINGTON — A CIA drone strike Thursday killed a high-level commander in the Haqqani network, the militant group that has been the largest killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.
The officials said they had confirmed the death of Janbaz Zadran, who has often been described as the third-ranking leader of the Haqqani network, near Miram Shah in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal area.
“His death in Miram Shah makes him the most senior Haqqani leader in Pakistan to be taken off the battlefield,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the nominally secret drone program.
Two missiles hit a house and a vehicle, killing Zadran and three other people, according to Pakistani officials and local news reports. A second drone strike in South Waziristan killed three people, the officials said.
Zadran, also known as Jamil, was an important link between Haqqani fighters in Afghanistan, who are allied with the Taliban, and the network’s hub in Miram Shah, where it has established a sort of ministate that includes tax collectors, courts and schools to train Islamic fighters. He was the chief organizer of the supply chain across the border for weapons and other goods, according to experts on the network.
Zadran served as a top aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s operational commander and the son of the group’s patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani. In the 1980s, the elder Haqqani was part of a coalition of Islamist militias, backed by the CIA, that fought the Soviet army in Afghanistan; in recent years, however, his group has become a major target for the agency’s campaign of strikes using missiles fired from drones.
A study last year by the New America Foundation, a Washington research group, said Zadran was in charge of Haqqani network finances as well as weapons acquisition. While not an experienced military leader, he came from the Haqqanis’ home village of Srani in Paktia province in Afghanistan and was among their most trusted deputies, the study said.
Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert and one of the authors of the New America paper, said that while the drone strikes in Pakistan had been quite effective against al-Qaida, whose leaders are mainly non-Pakistanis, they may be less devastating for a group like the Haqqani network.
“The Haqqanis have deep local roots, so they just have a deeper bench,” Fishman said.